Monthly Archives: October 2005

Campaign Photos 101

Via Jonathan Calder, I bring you Tim Ireland’s Art of Looking Concerned.

It’s easy to take the piss when it’s Tories, but I’m uncomfortably aware that a) this is the sort of thing that the Lib Dems run extensive training courses on at conferences, etc. and b) that I began looking at the photos from the point of view of an old hand myself. They’re quite well posed, if a little wooden, but everyone knows you should make sure your candidates have a change of clothing before going out so it doesn’t look like all the photos have been taken on the same day. At the very least, male candidates should wear a suit and then change ties between each shoot.

I’m so ashamed…


One of my favourite species is the false killer whale, for no other reason than for its name. Here are some false killer whale-related facts (all courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • False killer whales are not in fact whales, but cetaceans, and neither are killer whales. Both species kill dolphins, which seems a bit mean. Give a dog a bad name…
  • Not only are killer whales not whales, but the term “killer whale” is a mistranslation of the Spanish for “whale killer”.
  • False killer whales are no more “false” than killer whales, and the whole “false” thing is bit unfair really. They’re only called that because some donut mistook them for another species and the name stuck. Rumours that false killer whales tend to be excessively nice to people they can’t stand at parties remain unfounded.
  • False killer whales have elbows. Sort of.
  • A hybrid of a false killer whale and a bottlenose dolphin (presumably, the false killer whale creed is “what we don’t eat we shag”) is called a wolphin. This would be a ridiculous name even if it wasn’t for the fact that, as already stated, a false killer whale is not a whale!

Feel free to add your own fascinating false killer whale related facts in the comments below.

You’ll be hearing from my liars…

The following text appeared in this morning’s MediaGuardian email, referring to a story in both the Telegraph and the Mirror:

The BBC’s inquiry into John Humphrys’ alleged comments about ministers being lawyers amounted to a single phone call, the Today presenter claimed yesterday.

While it is a simple matter of record that a number of ministers including Jack Straw, Lord Falconer and of course “our Tone” are in fact qualified lawyers, I can well understand why Humphrys is upset. After all, who would want to be accused of suggesting that government ministers in some way have respect for rule of law? Outrageous!


In 1999, something interesting happened. Newley elected leader Charles Kennedy, in a break from his predecessor, came out and supported the Lib Dem party line of holding a Royal Commission on drug use.

And you know what? The world didn’t come crashing down around his ears. Remarkable!

Kennedy went on to make a point of intervening on the asylum and immigration debate in the midst of the election season in April 2000, putting forward the liberal case and denouncing the populist posturings coming from the Tories and Labour. The Lib Dems went on to win the Romsey by-election a couple of weeks later, despite the huge swing needed and the received wisdom that he had blown it by talking on such a touchstone issue. And while the Lib Dems didn’t make the huge inroads we would have liked to have made in 2001, we ran what felt like a refreshingly honest, upbeat and liberal campaign. And it was something the media picked up on.

The reason I’m saying all this is because it appears that liberals have lost so much ground over the last four years, from 11 September 2001 onwards. The 2005 Lib Dem campaign had us attempting to “tough up” our image, thanks to Mark Oaten and his cohorts. Yet all the polling evidence I’ve seen suggests that this neither helped nor hindered us. I’m not saying the 2001 campaign and manifesto were the best we’ve ever produced, but at least I felt back then that we were fighting the good liberal fight and not ducking and covering every time an issue such as immigration came up.

And now we find the rightwing press going nuts over David Cameron’s refusal to confirm or deny if he took drugs as a student. Personally I’m torn between whether he should just come out and frankly and honestly say what he took, and whether his sealed lips approach is the right one. Either way, I have no doubt that it is indicative of how the country’s mood has changed. Remember when the Tory front bench opted to get William Hague and Ann Widdecombe to cool it over the war on drugs by outing themselves as former users? It seems a world away now. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are living under an oppressive cloud, and that has as much to do with Cameron’s decision to give a non-answer as it has to do with the Main and Standard’s witch hunt.

(side point, but is it just me, or was Ken Clarke’s response “I have never taken cocaine” rather reminiscent of Dracula’s famous line “I never drink… wine”? Somehow though, I just can’t picture Ken Clarke as an opium fiend.)

And again, in 2001, when LDYS decided to set up a website to contribute to the party’s internal review on drugs policy,, barely no-one raised an eyebrow. When Ian McCartney predictably attempted to use this to prove the Lib Dems were soft on drugs, it looked to a lot of us that it would simply backfire. Yet now, the same sensible heads who would have advised Kennedy to avoid the asylum and immigration issue like the plague in the run up to the Romsey by-election have gained ground. LibDemsOnDrugs, which could now be a great forum for holding a liberal, honest and open debate on drugs policy, is dead as LDYS attempts to fall over itself to demonstrate how “respectable” it now is, as much a victim of self-censorship as pressure from on high.

We do need to start a backlash against this attempt to make large swathes of policy no-go areas. For a long time, up until 2001, it appeared that we were succeeding, yet so many politicians these days seem to be extraordinarily careful about what fights to pick; the result is that they avoid fighting almost any battles at all.

An alternative analysis would be that with civil liberties under such a full frontal attack from the government and fundamentalists at the moment, that people are simply fighting the bigger issues. Yet, the rot seemed to set in long before Labour started getting really potty and people started threatening to burn down theatres, and such acts only seemed to happen once people on the left had already self-consciously retreated. It’s a chicken and egg question we will perhaps never be able to answer adequately.

My guess is that if people stuck their heads above the parapet a bit more, they’d find fresh air rather than bullets, but it takes a lot of guts to be the first to do it. Anyone fancy a challenge?

The Brilliant Line

In response to a query about the likely quality of service of the Northern Line today, we were told to phone the next day to find out how “brilliant” it is going to be.

I like to think she was being sarcastic and sympathising with how lousy the line generally is. But a part of me wonders if Transport for London’s new policy is to describe the quality of service in terms of “brilliance,” in a hope that we’ll somehow not realise that it’s slowly getting worse.


Went to see this last week. While I would agree that it isn’t the best film ever, as a Whedon-head I did enjoy it enormously. It was certainly more on a par with Star Trek 2: the Wrath of Khan than Star Trek: Generations in terms of successful transition from goggle box to silver screen (personally I’ve never really enjoyed a Next Generation film, although I love the spin offs from the Original Series, even the bad ones).

One problem I found was however that most of the best Whedonisms in the dialogue had been put in the trailer, meaning that all the best lines tended to be underwhelming when they finally appeared in the film. This is a common mistake of film promoters. I seem to recall that they did this with Crocadile Dundee, the difference in that case being that the only half-decent bits were in the trailer (indeed, admitting that Crocadile Dundee had ANY redeeming features is likely to get my in trouble in some quarters. What can I say? I was young and I’m not saying it wasn’t shit overall!).

Read after here for minor spoilers… Continue reading Serenity

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (no spoilers)

…is excellent. Haven’t laughed so much in a film in ages.

I’m not one of thse anti-CGI doomsayers, but it has to be said that the craftsmanship in an animation such as this (which in fact did use CGI for one or two effects) is there for all to see. When you just have to use an algorithm to build a townscape or whatever, any in jokes you add will be an afterthought. If however, you have to painstakingly build every single house and shop front, you’re bound to add a whole extra level of detail.

So it was with this film. In all the action I only read one or two of the shop hoardings, but every one I did read was a bad pun. There’s a scene when Wallace skims his finger across the books on a shelf and the title of every single one is a bad cheese joke (“East of Edam”).

It’s one of those films you’ll be able to watch again and again, each time getting more detail.

Oh, and one last thing. One of the best jokes can be found right at the end of the titles. As someone who always watches the titles, it never ceases to amaze me how few people seem to be aware that film makers do this sort of thing all the time.